New Delhi: The media hue and cry over the Badaun killings has brought much-needed attention to the issue of caste violence, especially the kind that target Dalit women. But lost in the outrage is the very specific history of Yadav-Dalit relations in Uttar Pradesh, of which Badaun is just the latest instance.
The history of anti-Dalit violence in the Yadav belt, straddling central and parts of western Uttar Pradesh, remains rooted in the rather complex sociology and politics of the region. It also can be linked to the changing dynamics in the national polity ever since the late 80s and early 90s, when the twin issues of Mandir and Mandal transformed the existing social and political equations in bewildering ways in the state, and in the country too.
Placed at the bottom of social hierarchy as well as the economic pyramid, the Dalits never had a respectable existence till Kanshi Ram came into the picture in the mid-80s.
They lived in a sub-human condition, owning virtually nothing and being subjected to several forms of atrocities and discrimination. Rape of a Dalit woman was often the normal punishment for acts of audacity of their men folk against the upper castes. Times have changed but there is still tacit social sanction for such crude punishment. Crimes like this won’t be this frequent without the bigger community’s secret approval.
Thakurs, Brahmins, Kayasthas and Vaishyas remained at the top of the social pyramid, cornering most political and bureaucratic positions, controlling landed property, managing businesses and perpetuating their iron-like grip over the society by blocking the upward social mobility of other castes. Yadavs were intermediate castes, not too far from the Dalits in the social hierarchy till some decades ago yet marginally better placed than the latter in economic terms.
“There was never a history of atrocity against Dalits involving the community till 1990s. There were cases of violence but most of it was localized with no wider impact. The communities maintained a social distance. Then the Yadavs tasted power,” says Harish Mishra, a political analyst based in Lucknow, “It coincided with Kanshi Ram’s efforts to organize Dalits into a political force in the mid-80s."
The Congress became a spent force in Uttar Pradesh after the Ram Mandir issue drove the upper castes towards the BJP, and they were deserted by the Muslims who were frustrated at its inability prevent the razing of the Babri Masjid - to finding an alternative. After the then prime minister VP Singh unleashed the Mandal card to neutralize the impact of BJP’s Mandir politics, the intermediate castes flocked to Mulayam’s fledgling Samajwadi party. The Muslims also found a saviour in the Yadav leader.
This was also the time when Kanshi Ram mobilised the Dalits, specially the numerically superior Yatav community, into a vote bank. The elections of 1993 brought Samajwadi Party into power, and Mulayam became Chief Minister, supported by the BSP. However, with both parties seeking growth in a cramped political space, a split was inevitable. The BSP withdrew support 15 months later -- a Dalit betrayal that the Yadavs have not since forgiven.
This unhappy history at least partly explains why attacks on the community are so vicious in the region dominated by Mulayam and his clan. In eastern UP, which also has a significant Yadav presence, the intensity of the conflict is negligible in comparison.
The stint at the helm gave the Yadavs the heady taste of power. They had access to jobs now, courtesy Mandal, and other avenues of economic progress. With quick social mobility they rose closer the upper castes. The Dalits now became competitors and with Mayawati's victory, staked their claim to equal status, something unimaginable in a caste-ridden society in UP. Till Mayawati came to power, it was difficult for the Dalits to even file a complaint against the members of the upper castes.
It is no coincidence that the atrocities on Dalits shot up after Mulayam forged a successful Yadav-Thakur voting bloc which brought the Samajwadi Party back to Lucknow, and the Dalits back to square one.
Given this backdrop, it is easy to understand why police officials refused to register complaints against the members of the Yadav community who raped and killed the girls in Badaun. In the territory under the influence of the Mulayam clan, most of the police stations are manned by the upper castes, mostly Yadavs, says Mishra.
While Akhilesh will go through the motions of seeking justice in the Badaun case, don't expect the lot of Dalit women to improve any time soon. Mulayam realizes that his influence in his community is waning. In the general elections he realized it the hard way. He cannot crack down members of his community and risk further eroding his base. The attacks on Dalits will continue until the next state elections usher in a new configuration of power.
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